The appointment of Janet Napolitano to the top Homeland Security post has elicited a diverse number of reactions. In a New York Times article, some immigration hardliners are calling it a travesty, NumbersUSA thinks that President-elect Barack Obama could have done worse, while ‘liberals’ think that Napolitano represents a balanced and constructive view, given that she is in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes 12 million undocumented migrants. Conservatives in Arizona are happy that finally power might shift towards them with the election of Jan Brewer to Governorship.
Few are questioning the rise of ‘immigration’ as a matter of national security to the point where debates over the chief post of Homeland Security now include major immigration groups. Is this a failure of the imagination, ignorance or just plain historical amnesia? Discourses surrounding the appointment of Napolitano simply serve as polemical devices to achieve political ends while doing nothing to actually address the epistemological and ontological flaws in the actual nature of the Department of Homeland Security.
Writing for the Washington Post, Edward Alden is one of the few mainstream and liberal commentators who comes close to hitting the nail on the head with this statement in ‘Close Minded on the Border:
Instead of continuing to embrace the massive flow of talent, energy and initiative that the rest of the world has long offered the United States, we launched an expensive, futile experiment to see whether we could seal our borders against the ills of the world, from terrorists to drugs to illegal migrants. This effort has betrayed both our ideals and our interests.
Yet, he notes that Janet Napolitano has a rare opportunity to set the nation back on track—to improve security without sacrificing American values and ideals.
On November 25, 2002, President Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002 which created the Department of Homeland Security that effectively took over the INS (now CIS). This reorganization blurred the line between immigration policy and terrorism policy to the detriment of many immigrants in the United States – immigration policy became an issue of national security, widening the nexus of security concerns, and hence, granting more policing power to the State.
This incorporation of immigration as national security has far-reaching implications—apart from the fact that immigration is now treated as a security concern rather than an economic and cultural benefit, the dehumanization and scapegoating of undocumented immigrants has proliferated out of control. From local enforcement and state laws to election battles, the unnamed and othered ‘illegal immigrant’ is the big bad bogeyman against whom we need protection.